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The Power to Say No

The Power to Say No

By Stephanie Kovalick, Chief Strategy Officer, Sage Growth Partners | April 7, 2016

The value of strategic planning in healthcare

I recently had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion at the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations (NAACO) spring conference. The panel focused on what we call “the four pillars of ACO success”: Strong leadership, focused strategy, good data, and transformative technology. It was a great and productive session, thanks to the sizable group of actively participating audience members.

One participant asked an interesting question as we were discussing technology foundations and new population management, care management, and patient engagement tools. I’m paraphrasing, but the question was, “How do we know when our in-house IT infrastructure is no longer enough to support our ACO and we need to find a new solution?” A great question, and one with that has a direct answer—to start by looking at the organization’s strategic plan.

We put a lot of time and energy thinking through the four pillars of ACO success, and this question tied directly to the “focused strategy” pillar. What was interesting to me was the fact that, despite everyone agreeing that a focused strategy is critical—and a part of each of their organizations—that did not necessarily mean they had a formal strategic plan in place. I emphasized then, and I emphasize again now—no strategic plan means no path to success.

A strategic plan meets a specific need that’s often undervalued. A plan sets the stage for a clear growth trajectory, defines where you want (and expect) the business to be in the short and long term, and provides tools to measure your progress against those goals—and pivot priorities to capitalize on market shifts. While a strategic plan by definition isn’t tactical—meaning it wouldn’t cover things like evaluating the efficacy of technology platforms—it does provide the foundation to set key business plans and objectives, giving you guideposts to evaluate the adequacy of your technologies, processes, and people.

One of the most important—and most often overlooked—benefits a strategic plan provides is the ability to say “No.” Regardless of how new or large your healthcare organization is, the temptation and drive to chase every opportunity is extremely strong. An effective strategic plan, however, gives you the guidance to ensure that the opportunities align with the vision, mission, and goals outlined in your strategic plan; it also gives you the ability to stay flexible and pivot when overwhelming evidence shows that an opportunity is worth chasing.

If you don’t have a strategic plan in place for your ACO—or for any organization you’re a part of—consider putting one in place sooner rather than later. If you do have a plan in place, great—just be sure you’re routinely evaluating that plan and measuring your progress against it. Take the time to validate it periodically, and refine it as needed.

If you’re struggling with how to develop a strategic plan, try developing it following these four steps:

1. Assess the environment: Perform an assessment to understand the current state of the organization, factoring in internal and external pressures and opportunities. For the internal environment, take the following steps:

  • Develop the mission statement
  • Develop the values statement
  • Perform an internal assessment
  • Examine strengths and weaknesses
  • Interview representative staff

For the external environment, take these steps:

  • Conduct interviews with key stakeholders
  • Perform secondary research
  • Complete market and competitive analyses
  • Examine opportunities and threats in the environment

2. Set the vision for the future: The vision statement is designed to be aspirational and represent the next horizon in the organization’s journey. The vision is shared with the internal and external stakeholders to unite everyone under a common goal.

3. Create the plan: To begin, prioritize initiatives, develop action plans, and create the metrics you’ll use to measure success. Build the plan around four key imperatives: growth, finance, quality and operations, and people. Each of these imperatives sets forth goals and objectives with targets to monitor performance.

4. Monitor performance: This is when it’s time to turn the plan into action. After the plan is finalized, develop an implementation plan for the next three years.

The end result of this process is an actionable strategic plan that delivers several benefits and advantages to any organization. It affords leadership the opportunity to more effectively plan projects; lays out objectives sequentially; establishes key milestones, timelines, and deadlines; and allows for at-a-glace progress checks on key initiatives. Most importantly, it gives you the power to say no—one of the most difficult things for any growing organizations to do, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks on the path to true success.